Delivering Great Online Courses Through Effective Teaching Strategies


Eric Kunnen Headshot

This is a guest post by Eric Kunnen, Associate Director of eLearning and Emerging Technologies at Grand Valley State University, and Blackboard MVP.

What does it take to design, build, and teach a great online course? Are there specific course design elements or teaching strategies that make a course great? How can we take advantage of technologies and tools while not allowing the technology to drive our development or delivery?

These questions among others, are worthwhile to ask as we look to enhance the delivery of instruction on our campuses, especially in the facilitation of distance education. I would imagine that at all of our institutions strive for excellence and innovation. These are key values at Grand Valley State University, along with the university being known for increasingly innovative and outstanding teaching. At a time of great change in higher ed, with an increase in online and hybrid courses and an increase in the infusing of technology into teaching and learning, reaching out and collaborating internally and externally is more crucial than ever to our ongoing success.

Great Teaching Is Great Teaching

In the end what we know to be true is that a great teacher is a great teacher, both in the classroom and online. The delivery model doesn’t matter as much as the facilitation of the faculty member in the delivery of the course content and the interaction and engagement with students. The instructional delivery methods in which this happens is slightly different in a face to face course versus an online course, but the principles remain the same.

#1. Student & Faculty Interaction Is KEY

Learning is a social and a personal experience. Students need to feel like their instructor is present, that they are active and facilitating the course, and that the course isn’t a self-paced, self-guided CBT (computer-based training) experience. Here are some great tips from Blackboard MVP, Brian Morgan:

In addition, Josh Murdock from Valencia College in Florida highlights “3 Tips to Connect With Your Online Students.

In these posts, the engagement of the instructor provides an environment whereby students feel that they are part of a learning community. They receive encouragement from the instructor to stay on task, stay motivated, and to keep moving through the course. Students need their instructor to interact, be present, and visible in the course.

#2. Course Design is KEY

Blackboard MVP, Torria Davis underscores the importance of the design of the course in her post: “Tips: How to Avoid a ‘Hot Mess’ in Online Course Design.” Course navigation is essentially a map for students to follow in their quest to successfully complete the course objectives. When creating a course, designing the menus, building the content, and establishing the assessments, it is helpful to continuously put yourself into the student’s “mouse.”  In other words, asking yourself, how will the students know where to begin, what they are to learn, how they can practice, what or how exactly they will be assessed, and when everything is due and needs to be turned in.

#3. Instructional Design & Digital Media Development is KEY

Faculty are busy people. I know, because I am one of those people. There is much work to be done, with much of the time spent front loaded in the design of the course. From learning objectives, to creating a syllabus, to preparing content and learning activities, to setting up assessments, there is often little time remaining to build digital materials.

Seek out the experts in pedagogy and technologyyour instructional designers. Seek out the experts in content curationyour librarians. Seek out the experts in digital mediayour instructional technologists and digital media developers. There is no need to go at it alone, and these colleagues can provide a level of support and assistance which can help you as a faculty member focus to on your expertise.

#4. Faculty Professional Development & Support Resources are KEY

There is tremendous potential in cross college collaboration where educational technology, university libraries, and instructional design resources intersect and contribute to quality instruction at the university. The importance of preparing faculty and equipping them with resources creates a foundation of success.

As a faculty member, it is helpful to participate in workshops and seminars that focus on a variety of tools and technologies as these can be leveraged in the delivery of your courses. As eLearning professionals, it is up to us to ensure that we are there to come along side faculty to help them, remove obstacles, and to suggest new ways to deliver instruction in the online environment.

What Can You DO?

Get engaged. If you are a faculty member, seek out campus resources to help support youyou are not alone! Join a faculty learning community, there isn’t one on your campus? Reach out to your eLearning team or center for teaching and learning and start one!

Another excellent opportunity and experience is to engage with the Blackboard Exemplary Course Award to learn about how courses can be developed with quality. This award focuses on 4 areas: course design, interaction and collaboration, assessment, and learner support.

So what does it take to design, build, and teach a great online course? It takes a village. It requires a community of faculty, administrators, and support professionals that intersect to collaborate toward delivering great online courses through effective teaching strategies.

What about you? What ideas, tips, or teaching strategies have you uncovered in the quest to deliver a great online course?


Eric Kunnen is the Associate Director of eLearning and Emerging Technologies at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in Allendale, Michigan. His primary role focuses on collaborating and supporting distance learning initiatives at the university while exploring future trends in emerging technologies in teaching and learning. He also collaborates to research and support academic technologies used in the classroom and in eLearning.

Previously, Eric was the Emerging Technologies Coordinator at GVSU and a Director of Distance Learning and Instructional Technologies at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Case Study: Learn how NOVA uses tech to personalize online learning